Pierre Kaufmann’s Commentary on Siegfried Bernfeld & Sergei Feitelberg’s Death Drive & Entropy : Seminar VII, 27th April 1960, p204-205 : Notes towards Reading Group of 22nd February 2014

by Julia Evans on February 2, 2014

The commentary is not translated or included in Dennis Porter’s translation of Seminar VII.  See VII : 27th April 1960 : p204 : Parenthesis, The Death Drive According to Bernfeld. A version, in French, is available: Commentary on Siegfried Bernfeld’s & Sergei Feitelberg’s Death Drive & Entropy : Seminar VII, 27th April 1960 : Pierre Kaufmann  or here. Bruno de Florence noted this omission at the end of the 1st February 2014 Reading Group.

Seminar VII : 27th April 1960 : p204:

In order to compensate for that inaccessibility, all individual sublimation is projected beyond that barrier, along with the sublimations of the systems of knowledge, including – why not?- that of analytical knowledge itself.

That’s something I will probably be obliged to articulate for you next time; that is to say, the last word of Freud’s thought, and especially that concerning the death drive, appears in the field of analytical thought as a sublimation.

From this point of view it seemed to me to be useful, by way of a parenthesis, to give you the background against which this notion might be formulated. In the usual spirit of a seminar, I have, therefore, asked Mr Kaufmann to summarize for us what the representatives of a good psychoanalytic (p205) generation, namely, Bernfeld and his collaborator Feitelberg, thought up on the subject of the meaning of the drive, so as to try to give it its fullest extension in the scientific context of the time, where they believe it should be situated.


Further details of Pierre Kaufmann given Notes from Seminar VII : 2nd March 1960 : Interventions by Pierre Kaufmann on Siegfried Bernfeld’s work or here

Notes on Sigfried Bernfeld given Bemerkungen über Sublimierung (Observations on Sublimation): 1922 : Siegfried Bernfeld  or here

Notes on Sergei Feitelberg from the internet:

1)  In psychological thermodynamics, Sergei Feitelberg (1905-1967) was an Austrian? physicist noted for his work in the 1930s with Ukrainian-born Austrian psychologist Siegfried Bernfeld on the application of theory from physical science, such as energy, entropy, Le Chatelier’s principle, etc., to psychology in actual measurement. : Published by Hmolpedia : an Encyclopedia of human thermodynamics, human chemistry, and human physics : Available here

2)  In ‘This House of Noble Deeds: The Mount Sinai Hospital, 1852-2002’ by Arthur H. Aufses & Barbara Niss : Available here : p312 : a very different person emerges. Quote: Sergei Feitelberg first went to Mount Sinai Hospital (probably New York, USA) in 1939 in the newly formed laboratory Department of Pharmacology and was appointed Physicist to the Hospital in 1941. Following two years in the Army Signal Corps during World War II, Feitelberg returned to the physics laboratory. … “The disclosure of spectacular war work on nuclear fission acted as a stimulus to plans and discussions of research with radioactive tracers. …”

Further information on Siegfried Bernfeld and Sergie Feitelberg:

Quote from Daniel Benveniste: 8th June 2011:

Siegfried Bernfeld was born May 7th 1892 in Lemberg, Galicia then part of the Austrian Empire. He grew up in Vienna where his father was an importer, manufacturer and distributor of cloth. His mother, like Freud’s mother, was considerably younger than her husband. He had a younger brother and a younger sister.

Interested in psychology, he became familiar with Freud’s “Interpretation of Dreams” in 1907 while still at the Gymnasium.

Completing his studies in 1910, Bernfeld entered the University of Vienna where he began studying plant physiology and pursuing his interest in psychology

He was active in both the socialist and Zionist youth movements and worked for a time as secretary to Martin Buber.

On October 15, 1919, Siegfried Bernfeld opened the doors to his Kinderheim Baumgarten, a Children’s Home, for Jewish war orphans in the aftermath of the First World War. It was a school and demonstration center for progressive education based on socialist conceptions of the importance of trade apprenticeships, Stanley Hall’s work on adolescence, and the psychoanalytic principles of Sigmund Freud pertaining to preventive measures.

At school the child lives in an environment, which gives full scope for self-education in small communities. Education means living in an environment completely adjusted to the young who one day will want to be fully adult themselves; the pace of development and for reaching adulthood will be controlled by the child’s innate capacities, not prescribed by adult society.” If this vision sounds in some way familiar to you, it is because these ideas that originated with Bernfeld did in fact become a part of the original Kibbutz education in the 1920s in Palestine and continue to this day, in various forms, in the Israeli kibbutzim (Hoffer, 1965)

In one of these psychoanalytic meetings Bernfeld observed Freud drawing and writing on a slip of paper. After the meeting Bernfeld retrieved the paper and found it covered with doodles and the names of some of those in attendance including Bernfeld’s. Incidentally, one of Freud’s doodles, on that slip of paper, subsequently became the logo for the Freud Museum in London and another became the logo for the San Francisco Center for Psychoanalysis. (Sigmund Freud: His Life in Pictures and Words” by Ernst Freud, Lucien Freud, and Ilse Grubrich-Simitis)

Bernfeld’s contributions to psychoanalysis were highly regarded. He was recognized, from the beginning, as an inspiring and eloquent lecturer, an advocate of progressive education and a prolific writer.

Within the emerging positivist culture of the Vienna Circle and logical positivism in the 1920s and early ’30s there was an effort to anchor psychoanalytic theory in the physical sciences.

This led Bernfeld, with his background in botany and mathematics, to collaborate with Sergei Feitelberg in a series of physiological studies proposing to measure libido. In 1930 they published Energie und Trieb.

Bernfeld’s daughter, Ruth Goldberg, was a subject in his libidometry experiments and recalled, “I would sit still and they would have some apparatus to touch the skin to see when I started feeling it. … to measure the energy, I suppose, that was needed till the subject would feel it” “one of those sensory experiments where some needle came toward the skin and you said when you could feel it.”

But Bernfeld was not alone in the concrete interpretation of libido as a real form of energy. It was reified as a real energy by many psychoanalysts and of course Wilhelm Reich had his own version, which he called Orgone energy.

George Gero, M.D. (1901-1993), the Hungarian analyst, said that when Bernfeld told Freud about his project to measure libido, Freud was unimpressed and said, “Well, my friend Bernfeld, I believe I will die with unmeasured libido.”

My understanding is that this effort to measure libido ultimately led Bernfeld and Feitelberg into a dead end after which I presume, the concept of libido was allowed to return to its place as an energic metaphor for the location, direction, and intensity of desire. Ruth Goldberg recalled, “He didn’t pursue it because it was fruitless. It was just not an approach that gave results.”

From : Siegfried Bernfeld
 and the Spirit of Psychoanalysis : Presentation by Daniel Benveniste, Ph.D. : at American Psychoanalytic Association’s 
100th Annual Meeting (Forgotten Analysts and their Legacy: Siegfried Bernfeld) in 
San Francisco
: June 8, 2011 2:00pm – 4:00pm : available here

A further comment by Sigmund Freud on Siegfried Bernfeld:

From : An Autobiographical Study : 1925d : Section V : [p3274] : Sigmund Freud

Available here : published by Lutecium.org

I have taken but little direct part in certain other applications of psycho-analysis, though they are none the less of general interest. It is only a step from the phantasies of individual neurotics to the imaginative creations of groups and peoples as we find them in myths, legends, and fairy tales. Mythology became the special province of Otto Rank; the interpretation of myths, the tracing of them back to the familiar unconscious complexes of early childhood, the replacing of astral explanations by a discovery of human motives, all of this is to a large extent due to his analytic efforts. The subject of symbolism, too, has found many students among my followers. Symbolism has brought psycho-analysis many enemies; many enquirers with unduly prosaic minds have never been able to forgive it the recognition of symbolism, which followed from the interpretation of dreams. But analysis is guiltless of the discovery of symbolism, for it had long been known in other regions of thought (such as folklore, legends, and myths) and plays an even larger part in them than in the ‘language of dreams’.

I myself have contributed nothing to the application of analysis to education. It was natural, however, that the analytic discoveries about the sexual life and mental development of children should attract the attention of educators and make them see their problems in a new light. Dr. Oskar Pfister, a protestant pastor at Zurich, led the way as a tireless pioneer along these lines, nor did he find the practice of analysis incompatible with the retention of his religion, though it is true that this was of a sublimated kind. Among the many others who worked alongside of him I may mention Frau Dr. Hug-Hellmuth and Dr. S. Bernfeld, both of Vienna.¹ The application of analysis to the prophylactic upbringing of healthy children and to the correcting of those who, though not actually neurotic, have deviated from the normal course of development has led to one consequence which is of practical importance. It is no longer possible to restrict the practice of psycho-analysis to doctors and to exclude laymen from it. In fact, a doctor who has not been through a special training is, in spite of his diploma, a layman in analysis, and a non-doctor who has been suitably trained can, with occasional reference to a doctor, carry out the analytic treatment not only of children but also of neurotics.

Pierre Kaufmann’s references:

Das Prinzip von Le Chatelier und der Selbsterhaltungstrieb (The Principle of Le Chatelier and the Instinct of Self-Preservation) :1929 : Siegfried Bernfeld & Sergei Feitelberg : Imago : Vol 15: p289-298 : available to read at archive.org : here

Über psychische Energie, Libido und deren Messbarkeit (Upper Psychic Energy, Libido, and its Measurement) : 1930 : Siegfried Bernfeld & Sergei Feitelberg : Imago : Vol 16 : p66-118

The Principle of Entropy and the Death Instinct (Der Entropiesatz und der Todestrieb) : 1931 : Siegfried Bernfeld & Sergei Feitelberg : International Journal of Psycho-Analysis ; Vol 12 p61-81 : Quote from the Introduction:

In the psycho-analytical theory of instincts the death instinct occupies a peculiar position. Some psycho-analysts are of opinion that it is entirely superfluous, while others make use of it as of a notion based on proved clinical experience. Freud constantly reiterates that this notion is conjectural, and he holds that we must not regard the instincts of death or Eros as ranking with the other propositions he has laid down in his theory of the libido. In his view, with the assumption of the death instinct that theory enters the realm of speculation, for here it oversteps the boundaries of psychological or psycho-analytical methods, since the notions of the death instinct and Eros purport to embrace biological facts—indeed, the universal behaviour of nature (the stability principle). Many uncertainties, confusions and errors arise from the circumstance that we do not always sufficiently distinguish between the different meanings attached to the one word: ‘instinct’.

As we know, from the psychological standpoint—i.e. as concrete forces within the personality (id, ego and superego)—Freud differentiates the sexual instinct and the instinct of destruction. In antithesis to these stand the speculative biological notions of Eros and the death instinct, by which we mean not so much forces within the personality, but the most universal behaviour of living substance. They are principles, or, if you like, natural forces, but not instincts in the narrower sense of the word. The term ‘death instinct’ denotes the fact that everything living is of limited duration, has a beginning and an end, and it represents the course of life as the restoration of the inanimate state in which life originated. ‘Eros’ denotes the constant prolonging of life through reproduction and the aggregation of ever-greater organic masses in increasingly complicated unities. This clear distinction between the ‘speculative’ (biological) and the psychological standpoint has been frequently emphasized by Freud; nevertheless, it is still possible for misunderstandings to occur because he ….

References to Sigmund Freud:

Instincts and Their Vicissitudes (Triebe und Triebschicksale): 1915c : you will find Freud’s text in English with the original German text laid out in the right hand column. : published at www.Freud2Lacan.com : available here  (Triebe should be translated as Drives)

The Project for a Scientific Psychology: 23rd & 25th September & 5th October 1895: Sigmund Freud  : Available  here

Also related:

Posts for the “A. Reading Seminar VII: The Ethics of Psychoanalysis” category  : here

Seminar VII: The ethics of psychoanalysis: 1959-1960: Jacques Lacan : Available here

Posts for the “Bernfeld Siegfried” category : Available here

Posts for the “Freud Sigmund” category : Available here

Posts for the “Kaufmann Pierre” category : Available here

Posts for the “Lacan Jacques” category : Available here